Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman

Nuala O'Faolain

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

240 Pages



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One of nine children born into a penniless North Dublin family, Nuala O'Faolain was saved from a harrowing childhood by her love of books and reading. Though she ultimately became one of Ireland's best-known columnists, her professional success did little to ease her loneliness and longing for a deep connection to the world. Are You Somebody? distills her experiences into a wisdom that can only come from an obstinate refusal to shrink from life.

This commemorative edition of her landmark memoir celebrates O'Faolain's remarkable life and work with a new foreword from Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes, as well as additional archival materials. Strikingly vivid and starkly emotional, Are You Somebody? is, like O'Faolain herself, a singular example of courage, honesty, and bold living.


Praise for Are You Somebody?

"While [O'Faolain's] story incorporates many of the familiar features of the 20th-century Irish narrative—booze, religious repression, sexual guilt—it avoids the affectations and subverts the sentimentalities that often afflict a certain sort of self-consciously 'Oirish' literature. Whether writing about the 1950's Ireland of her childhood, where sex outside marriage was a passport to hell and the illegitimate child of the O'Faolains' maid, 'who was never paid,' was palmed off on the maid's mother to die slowly of neglect . . . or the drink-sodden literary Dublin of the 1960's or the modern European democracy of Ireland in the 80's, O'Faolain brings a spiky, independent intelligence that vanquishes cliche. A good example is the manner in which she addresses her own single, childless status . . . Toward the end of the book, she gives an account of a Christmas that she recently spent on her own. Her description of the day, spent walking in Ballyvaughan with her dog, being bravely 'sensible' about her situation and at the same time abjectly fearful of the solitary future stretching out before her, is one of the most perfectly observed portraits of female loneliness I've ever come across—with more genuine, painful candor in it than all the modish, scandalous confessions of recent years put together . . . this book has to be read."—Zoë Heller, The New York Times Book Review

"A beautiful exploration of human loneliness and happiness, of contentment and longing."—Alice McDermott, The Washington Post

"There's not a bit of blarney in [this] searing, unsentimental book . . . Nor is there so much as a hint of the Ireland of the American imagination in O'Faolain's story of growing up female and psychically starved in modern Ireland. Hers is not an emerald land of enchantment populated by winking leprechauns, orange-haired tale-tellers, and tenors in tears near their beer."—Maureen Dezell, The Boston Globe

"Funny, plainspoken, heartfelt . . . Though her memoir is more facinating on subjects other than love, it is to love that O'Faolain returns again and again throughout the book."—Lynn Freed, Elle magazine

"A lovely and complex mosaic out of the moments that make up a life as it is being lived."—Bob Minzesheimer, USA Today

"O'Faolain understands how the most contented of us can still be overwhelmed unexpectedly by regret for the life not led."—Time magazine

"A profoundly textured, truthful memoir, loving and acerbic, vividly told [with both] lyrical grace and intellectual stamina . . . An immensely courageous undertaking."—The Irish Times

"Likely to become a classic of Irish autobiography."—Colm Tóibín, The Times Literary Supplement (London)

"I kept marveling at how such pain and grief, sorrow and anger and loss could make such joyful reading."—Terry Doran, The Buffalo News

"Searingly honest, exquisitely painful, it also is a fascinating and inspiring account of one woman's triumph opver a daunting heritage."—The Orlando Sentinel

"A story of perseverance and pragmatism, of loneliess and its imporfect antidotes."—The Austin American-Statesman

"The brutally honest, sometimes heartbreaking account tells the tale of a woman determined to break the mold set by her parents by pushing traditional Irish life to its limits."—Karen Sharp, The Oakland Press (Pontiac)

"You don't want the book to end; it glows with compassion and you want more, more because you know this is a fine wine of a life, richer as it ages."—Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes

"An extraordinary, powerful memoir. It is beautifully written, with an honesty that is both sensitive and stark. Writing about herself, Nuala O'Faolain has also written about Ireland. It is a cruel, wounded place—and this book has become an important part of the cure."—Roddy Doyle

"A remarkable memoir, poignant, truthful, and imparting that quiet wisdom which suffering brings."—Edna O'Brien

"An Irish woman reflects, with stunning honesty, on her country and her past. O'Faolain, a journalist for The Irish Times, was asked to collect her columns for publication, but the introduction she sat down to write eventually expanded into this beautifully cadenced and moving memoir, into which many of the columns have been folded. The second of nine children, O'Faolain lived a bohemian childhood with little money and many books. Her father, a well-known journalist in Ireland, left to her mother the responsibility for their children. O'Faolain's mother read voraciously and drank with a similar appetite, often neglecting her children. Nuala was sent to convent school at 14—this and her love of the written word are what saved her, she says. Her adult life at University College, Dublin, as a student and teacher; her studies at Oxford; and friends, family, lovers, and work are all examined with great frankness. Most importantly, O'Faolain explores the role of women in Ireland and how gender has affected her life. O'Faolain's candor made a deep impression when the book was published in Ireland; it quickly landed on the bestseller list, staying at the top for 20 weeks. As she explains in an afterword, 'hitherto silent voices . . . were just on the brink of speaking out. I was just slightly ahead.' Readers of the US edition will be similarly moved. O'Faolain has had her share of love affairs ('my aim in life was something to do with loving and being loved'), and as she approaches 60, what is most poignant about her story is her coming to grips with being childless and alone: 'I would have been a very bad mother during most of my life.' But, she adds regretfully, 'I'd be a good mother now.' A testament to a full and passionately lived life—all the more affecting because of that life's vividly described imperfection and pain."—Kirkus Reviews

"O'Faolain seeks to understand the events of her life by baring her soul to the world in a memoir of her experiences with love and loneliness and her journey of self-discovery. This autobiography is unlike most others in that O'Faolain's frank and open examination speaks to both American and European audiences. Transcending her rural Irish childhood (one of nine children, an alcoholic mother, and a philandering father), she tries to find purpose through reading, education, and a career rather than the traditional life of wife and mother. Despite winning scholarships to University College, Dublin; the University of Hull; and, finally, Oxford University, she drifts . . . through the intellectual scene in Dublin during the 1950s and the yet traditional Oxford of the 1960s, against the backdrop of the rising feminist movement. O'Faolain is simply swept along, asserting herself but not really knowing why or to what end. Alcoholism and depression take their toll, but she fights her way back. The author speaks of events and predicaments that are universal: the need for purpose in life; the search for satisfaction; and the desire we all have to be somebody . . . Poignantly honest and profoundly memorable, this program is highly recommended."—A. Gloria Maxwell, Penn Valley Community College, Kansas City, Missouri, Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Nuala O'Faolain

  • Nuala O'Faolain was a waitress, sales clerk, and maid; a university lecturer; a TV producer; and a columnist with The Irish Times. The author of three consecutive New York Times bestsellers, her books include the memoir Almost There, a follow-up to Are You Somebody?, as well as two novels: My Dream of You and The Story of Chicago May. She died in Dublin in 2008.